Mrs. Browning: I have a certain sneaking affection for the hon. Gentleman[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"]and I have tried every course. On Second Reading, I went out of my way to say nice things about him. Throughout Committee, I read him interesting extracts from publicationsbut now there is no more Mrs. Nice Guy. I shall lay it on the line: as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) correctly pointed out, we are talking about animal disease. Clearly, there is a read-across from our concerns about the danger that imports present and the spread of animal diseases in this country to harmful human diseases and human health risks.
As time goes by, there may well be communality between the procedures that are put in place to address both issues, but the Bill deals specifically with animal disease, and it is on that basis that the Minister should
Mr. Simon Thomas: At the start of what I hope will be a short contribution, may I clear up any confusion that may have been caused in Leicestershire because of my earlier remarks? Of course, I wanted to refer to legal meat imports. It is important to realise that legal and illegal meat imports present a risk to animal health. As has been rightly said, there is a public health issue as well. Certainly, all of us who are here to serve, to protect and to provide services to the public should be concerned when we hear of the cases involving Ebola-carrying monkeys.
I simply want to take this opportunity to encourage the Minister to accept either new clause 1 or new clause 4, because there is a great deal to be said for them. A bit of politicking has gone on, which is quite natural, and the Government have been accused of being rather lackadaisical in their attitude to illegal meat imports. However, when I met representatives of the county committee of the Farmers Union of Wales in my constituency last Friday, they told me that they were being asked to do an awful lot to improve and maintain biosecurity. They pointed out that they had to face the financial penalties for not reaching the Government's standards, and they simply said, "Ask the Government what they are doing for us." They wanted to know what the Government are doing to protect their industry and farming communities from illegal meat imports.
Legal and illegal meat imports involve an economic cost that affects how we try to get our local farmers to sell their produce successfully. The point that the farmers wanted me to get acrossI am delighted to have the opportunity to do sois that they want the Government to show clearly how they are checking meat imports, ensuring that higher public standards are meeting consumers' concerns and weeding out illegal meat imports.
The FUW would like an annual report to be published to show what percentage of meat imports are checked and at which locations those checks take place. I accept that those checks take place at large ports such as Felixstowe, but we also heard about the smaller ports such as that in the Stroud constituency, as well as Fishguard and Swansea, where such checks are not carried out regularly and where curious meat imports end up. South American beef is sent to the Republic of Ireland, somehow acquires EU status and is then imported into this country. We would like an annual report to explain how such things occur.
If the Minister does not accept either new clause, I hope that he will at least undertake to produce a report. If he does that, I would still commend new clause 4 to him. Despite the virtues of new clause 1, by which Conservative Members try to address similar aims, the advantage of new clause 4 to the Minister is that its terms are much more detailed and thorough. It states which agencies should be covered by an annual report and casts
There are great advantages in both new clauses, but new clause 4 has the added advantage that the National Assembly for Wales would receive a copy of the report. Two serious animal diseasesbrucellosis and tuberculosisare dealt with as animal health matters by the National Assembly, not by the Minister here. Plaid Cymru would like to amend the Bill and suggested some changes on Second Reading, although not in Committee because we did not get to that point. Under amendment No. 19if we ever get therewe shall try to give the National Assembly greater powers to deal with animal health issues.
Indeed, the National Assembly's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has said that it wants such powers, but it wants to have them through secondary legislation, which is a slightly different way from the one I would advocate. All that has the virtue that the National Assembly should receive a copy of such an annual report and debate it, and it should be able to suggest any improvements to primary legislation that are needed to crack down on illegal meat imports.
I hope that the Minister will either undertake to produce such a report, or, even better, accept one of the new clauses. However, whatever happens, I hope that he will accept that the farming community and the public need to see an annual report from the Government in which they set out the steps that they are taking to ensure that there is no further outbreak of foot and mouth, or any other serious animal health problem, in this country. I hope that the Government will take all necessary steps to ensure that no such outbreak occurs and that they will be openly accountable.
Mr. Paice: The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) referred in his opening remarks to a point that I want to make. I endorse what he said about the pressure that is properly put on farmers to improve their biosecurity. The vast majority of farmers realise that more can be done, but probably those who realise what can be done have already done itthat is the nature of such things. However, the need for biosecurity is recognised and accepted by the industry.
Alongside that, the Government have been making noises during the past few months, if not years, about farmers taking increased responsibilityusing insurance mechanisms or whateverfor the consequences of animal disease. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to start with that issue because it behoves the Government to do their bit to minimise the risks against which farmers must take their own biosecurity measures.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and other hon. Members have said, the advantage of an annual report is that it would give the House and others the opportunity to find out what was happening. In itself, it would solve nothing. In theory, an annual report could say that nothing had been done and that could go on year after year, but we all know that the reality is that such exposure of the actions taken, or not taken, would result in improvement.
It is worth making the point that when the House passed the Food Standards Act 1999, about which I spoke on behalf of the Opposition, we tried very hard to give the FSA the responsibility for monitoring the standards of imported food. I recognise that that issue relates to human health, rather than animal health, but, as several hon. Members have rightly said, there is a tremendous amount of conjunction between those two issues. Of course, some diseases affect humans and other animals.
I make the aside, but it is an important one, that if we are facing climate change and a gradual warming of this part of the worldmost people now accept that that is happeningwe shall be increasingly at risk of diseases that have not yet reached these shores. We are dealing not only with known problems, but with those that might arise in future. It is a great shame that the Government strongly resisted making the FSA responsible for import controls, for example.
I also want to refer briefly to the world trade in food. I readily accept that we are debating whether an annual report should be published on how we address the animal issues that relate to imported foods, but we need to return to the point about new legislation that the Minister made in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. Of course, the Minister is right to say that, strictly speaking, food can be moved freely in the European Union, but I remind him that there is a treaty articleit was 36, but it now has another numberthat allows any Government to impose import controls for reasons of human or animal health or welfare. The power can therefore be used if necessary. The power's use is considered by the European Court of Justice, and France used it over BSE. As a result of decisions made at the European Council, the court decided that its use in that case went over the top.
In an intervention, I referred to food imports from China and the increasing amount of meat imports, including poultrymeat, that come from Brazil and Thailand. We therefore need to question whether the controls exercised by the EU on our behalf are sufficient. I hope that an annual report would be able to refer to the implementation of the European controls.
It has been argued that the developing world would see the introduction of certain standards as a trade barrier. Like most Conservative Members, I am in favour of free trade as long as it is fair trade. The non-governmental organisations that assist the developing world frequently use the term "fair trade", and I have no qualms about the concept. However, if standards are imposed in this country or in Europe, we cannot have fair trade if products that do not meet those standards are allowed into the marketplace. The Government or the Commission must either prevent such imports or provide public support to domestic producers to compensate them for the extra costs that would be imposed on them.
A couple of months ago, the Minister created agricultural headlines when he expressed his belief that subsidies were doomed and would go. I do not want to enter that debate now, but his view hardly suggests that the Government are willing to set out the compensatory approach that I have just described. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said, we must recognise the importance of the famous level playing field for imports.